An entertaining, if unremarkable, mystery. 3.5/5 stars.
Thank you to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.
The blurb: Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, aged fifty-two, is the widow of an archdeacon. Living in Hampstead with her confidante and landlady, Mrs. Benson, who once let rooms to John Keats, Laetitia makes her living as a highly discreet private investigator.
Her brother, Frederick Tyson, is a criminal barrister living in the neighboring village of Highgate with his wife and ten children. Frederick finds the cases, and Laetitia solves them using her arch intelligence, her iron discretion, and her immaculate cover as an unsuspecting widow. When Frederick brings to her attention a case involving the son of the well-respected, highly connected Sir James Calderstone, Laetitia sets off for Lincolnshire to take up a position as the family’s new governess—quickly making herself indispensable.
But the seemingly simple case—looking into young Charles Calderstone’s “inappropriate” love interest—soon takes a rather unpleasant turn. And as the family’s secrets begin to unfold, Laetitia discovers the Calderstones have more to hide than most.
This is a mystery/whodunnit set in the Victorian period and narrated in first person by Laetitia Rodd, an unusual cross of Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes (although more Marple than Holmes). When choosing this book I was hoping for an entertaining story with a strong heroine that would be a “break” after the dark psychological thrillers and fantasy novels I’ve been reading recently, and that’s exactly what I got. I’ve always enjoyed reading detective-style mysteries set in Victorian England. No matter how dastardly the crime, there’s always something peculiarly genteel and comforting about the rational forces of good tracking down and putting away the villain/s of the piece, usually without gallons of blood and gore.
I would recommend this book particularly to readers who enjoy murder mysteries but have had enough of stories which appear to be more about the investigator than the actual crime. Mrs Rodd is an easy detective to get along with and a personable narrative voice, but her own personality takes a back seat to her investigations. Sometimes this is a good thing, however, sometimes I did wish we knew more about her. More than once I felt as if I were reading the third or fourth book in a series and had missed some vital previous episodes which would have shown me how Mrs Rodd got into the business of being a private investigator. We are told how she came into her new career, but it would have been more fun to see this, and getting to watch her struggle and triumph in her first few cases might have made her character more sympathetic.
The period detail is impressive and the author has clearly done her research. The plot is well-structured and we’re given information gradually in carefully-applied layers of intrigue. When all is finally revealed, events accelerate nicely towards the conclusion. I say “nicely” because I’m a firm believer that once we know everything there is to know, it’s time to skip to the end.
Overall: a solid, if unremarkable series opener which fans of Victorian-period mysteries will enjoy.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul